The place of the exorcism is usually the home of the possessed person, for generally it is only relatives or closest friends who will give care and love in the dreadful circumstances associated with possession. The actual room chosen is most often one that has had some special signigcance for the possessed person, not infrequently his or her own bedroom or den. In this connection, one aspect of possession and of spirit makes itself apparent: the close connection between spirit and physical location. The puzzle of spirit and place makes itself felt in many ways and runs throughout virtually every exorcism. There is a theological explanation for it. But that there is some connection between spirit and place must be dealt with as a fact.
Once chosen, the room where the exorcism will he done is cleared as far as possible of anything that can be moved. During the exorcism, one form of violence may and most often does cause any object, light or heavy, to move about, rock back and forth, skitter or fly across the room, make much noise, strike the priest or the possessed or the assistants. It is not rare for people to emerge from an exorcism with serious physical wounds. Carpets, rugs, pictures, curtains, tables, chairs, boxes, trunks, bedclothes, bureaus, chandeliers, all are removed.
Doors very often will bang open and shut uncontrollably; but because exorcisms can go on for days, doors cannot be nailed or locked with unusual security. On the other hand, the doorway must be covered; otherwise, as experience shows, the physical force let loose within the exorcism room will affect the immediate vicinity outside the door.
Windows are closed securely; sometimes they may be boarded over in order to keep flying objects from crashing through them and to prevent more extreme accidents (possessed people sometimes attempt defenestration; physical forces sometimes propel the assistants or the exorcist toward the windows).
A bed or couch is usually left in the room (or placed there if necessary), and that is where the possessed person is placed. A small table is needed. On it are placed a crucifix, with one candle on either side of it, holy water, and a prayer book. Sometimes there will also be a relic of a saint or a picture that is considered to be especially holy or significant for the possessed. In recent years in the United States, and increasingly abroad as well, a tape recorder is used. It is placed on the floor or in a drawer or sometimes, if it is not too cumbersome, around the neck of an assistant.
The other assistants are laymen. Very often a medical doctor will be among them because of the danger to all present of strain, shock, or injury. The number of lay assistants will depend on the exorcist's expectation of violence. Four is the usual number. Of course, in remote country areas or in very isolated Christian missions, and sometimes in big urban centers, there is no question of assistants. There simply is none available, or there is no time to acquire any. The exorcist must go it alone.
An exorcist comes to know from experience what he can expect by way of violent behavior; and, for their own sakes, possessed people must usually be physically restrained during parts of the exorcism. The assistants therefore must be physically strong. In addition, there may be a straitjacket on hand, though leather straps or rope are more commonly used.
It is up to the exorcist to make sure that his assistants are not consciously guilty of personal sins at the time of the exorcism, because they, too, can expect to be attacked by the evil spirit, even though not so directly or constantly as the exorcist himself. Any sin will be used as a weapon.
The exorcist must be as certain as possible beforehand that his assistants will not be weakened or overcome by obscene behavior or by language foul beyond their imagining; they cannot blanch at blood, excrement, urine; they must be able to take awful personal insults and be prepared to have their darkest secrets screeched in public in front of their companions. These are routine happenings during exorcisms.
Assistants are given three cardinal rules: they are to obey the exorcist's commands immediately and without question, no matter how absurd or unsympathetic those commands may appear to them to be; they are not to take any initiative except on command; and they are never to speak to the possessed person, even by way of exclamation.
Even with all the care in the world, there is no way an exorcist can completely prepare his assistants for what lies in store for them. Even though they are not subject to the direct and unremitting attack the priest will undergo, it is not uncommon for assistants to quit-or be carried out-in the middle of an exorcism. A practiced exorcist will even go so far as to make a few trial runs of an exorcism beforehand, on the old theory that forewarned is forearmed-at least to some degree.
Timing in an exorcism is generally dictated by circumstances. There is usually a feeling of urgency to begin as soon as possible. Everyone involved should have an open schedule. Rarely is an exorcism shorter than some hours-more often than not ten or twelve hours. Sometimes it stretches for two or three days. On occasion it lasts even for weeks.
Once begun, except on the rarest occasions, there are no time outs, although one or other of the people present may leave the room for a few moments, to take some food, to rest very briefly, or go to the bathroom. (One strange exorcism where there was a time out is described in this book. The priest involved would have preferred one hundred times going straight through the exorcism rather than suffer the mad violence that caused the delay.)
The only people in an exorcism who dress in a special way are the exorcist and his priest assistant. Each wears a long black cassock that covers him from neck to feet. Over it there is a waist-length white surplice. A narrow purple stole is worn around the neck and hangs loosely the length of the torso.
Normally, the priest assistant and the lay assistants prepare the exorcism room according to the exorcist's instructions. They and the exorcee are ready in the room when the exorcist enters, last and alone.